- Contemplate the cosmos and its determinism to put your problems in perspective
- Contemplate mortality and impermanence to put your problems in perspective
- Contemplate an ideal sage and his virtues. Model those virtues.
- Memorize and repeat maxims
- Look at things in a cool, objective way
- Be mindful of your thoughts and the cravings/aversions that go with them
The assumptions of cognitive therapy that are also found over and over again in Stoic texts –
- Thoughts affect emotions
- Thoughts can be snagged and altered
- That can change behavior
Beck's description of depression is based on five principles that are found over and over again in Stoic texts –
- Watch your thoughts
- Watch how they affect mood and behavior
- Evaluate the thoughts rationally
- Generate wiser thoughts
- Snag and change the underlying beliefs that gave rise to the thoughts
“shared emphasis upon cognition (ideas, judgements, opinions etc.) as both the cause and the cure of emotional disturbance”
Shakespeare: “There's nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so”
Epictetus: “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of them”
Unmon: “The marks are on the balance arm, not on the scale pan”
Koji Tse: “If the mind is clear, a dark room has its blue sky. If the mind is somber, broad daylight gives birth to demons and evil spirits”
Cicero: “things themselves do not contain fear” [page 14 of Robertson]
This principle is sometimes called “cognitive mediation”
DeBrabander: “The fact that passions are irrational judgements means not only that they are susceptible of treatment but also that they admit of complete and utter remedy. To treat a passion is just to clarify the poor cognition inherent in it and thereby to render its inherent judgement rational.” In other words, because it is beliefs
that are causing the mischief, it can be undone by philosophizing
. If we accept that beliefs are the problem, it follows that philosophy is the solution.
Not only the principles, but also the practices of Stoicism are in harmony with CBT. Robertson feels this has been overlooked by psychologists, who have acknowledged the theoretical influence.
“to become educated means just this, to learn what things are our own and what are not”. [See verse 1 of the Enchiridion
Mindful awareness is one of the things that is our own (i.e. is in our control)
So cultivate those mental factors like mindfulness that are in our control.
Stoically accept those things that are not in our control. This includes the past, other people, the world, results/outcomes, your existing karma (body&mind), external events
“What, then, is to be done? To make the best of what is in our power, and take the rest as it naturally happens”
Descartes: “My third maxim was always to try to conquer myself rather than fortune, and to change my desires rather than the order of the world, and generally to accustom myself to believing that there is nothing that is completely within our power except our thoughts,”
Two basic Stoic concepts
- Accept what is outside your control
- Be rational/scientific in your opinions and judgements
“What, then, is it to be properly educated [as a philosopher]? To learn how to apply natural preconceptions [i.e., common sense] to particular cases”
“The wisdom of the enlightened Stoic sage consists primarily in his unwavering mindfulness, moment-to-moment attention to acts of his will and to his faculty of judgement. Emotional disturbance is the result of mindlessly becoming absorbed in external events,being overly attached to sensory pleasure, wealth, and the praise of others, and overly anxious about pain, poverty, and criticism.”
[Compare Chapter 5 of of Guide To The Boddhisattva's Way of Life
Reminding ourselves that our judgements, our lusts and horrors, are subjective opinions and not facts, is central to both Stoicism and CBT. A depressed person thinks the world is horrible; they need to remind themselves that the world is not horrible, but rather they are judging it to be horrible.
Before Freud and psychoanalysis, there was something called 'rational psychotherapy' which was on the right track in thinking that erroneous ideas were the problem. When Freud presented psychoanalysis in 1907, it met resistance from people who believed in “the more conventional techniques of persuasion and suggestion”. This school was led by Dubois, who “explicitly recognized Stoicism as the precursor to modern rational psychotherapy”.
Dubois: “The following lines written by Seneca, seem to be drawn from a modern treatise on psychotherapy: “Beware of aggravating your troubles yourself and of making your position worse by your complaints. Grief is light when opinion does not exaggerate it; and if one encourages one’s self by saying, ‘This is nothing,’ or, at least, ‘This is slight; let us try to endure it, for it will end,’ one makes one’s grief slight by reason of believing it such.” And, further: “One is only unfortunate inproportion as one believes one’s self so.””
Dubois etc. talk about “ethics” and “morality” in a different sense from the usual, much more resembling the Pali sīla
Robertson on Dubois: “The work of the psychotherapist centres on motivating the client, educating him about the effect of mind upon body, and teaching him to adopt remedial 'philosophical' attitudes. Dubois wrote, “by rational education of ourselves we modify our ideas and our sentiments and we make our temperament of a noble character””
Use patience and acceptance instead of worrying.
Understand that people are determined by their karma/beliefs/reality-tunnels/whatever name you choose. This makes us more understanding of their faults, and also less tolerant of our own weaknesses, because we see how they will weaken us.
“Marcus Aurelius reminds himself, 'Practice really hearing what people say. Do your best to get inside their minds”' (Meditations
Marcus Aurelius: “When people injure you, ask yourself what good or harm they thought would come of it. If you understand that, you’ll feel sympathy rather than outrage or anger. Your sense of good and evil may be the same as theirs, or near it, in which case you have to excuse them. Or your sense of good and evil may differ from theirs. In which case they’re misguided and deserve your compassion. Is that so hard?” [Meditations
, 7.26] Compare the chapter on anger in Feeling Good
, where David Burns says to contemplate that the people we are angry at were acting fairly by their idea of fairness.
Dubois and his contemporary hypnotists/mesmerists thought bad autosuggestions contributed to problems. Robertson says the Stoics called this phantasia
, though the description of phantasia
sems more like automatic visual thoughts.
“Strikingly, Coué wrote, 'Pythagoras and Aristotle taught autosuggestion'”
Coué: “Even more definite is the doctrine of Aristotle, which taught that “a vivid imagination compels the body to obey it, for it is a natural principle of movement. Imagination, indeed, governs all of the forces of sensibility, while the latter, in its turn, controls the beating of the heart, and through it sets in motion all vital functions; thus the entire organism may be rapidly modified”
“Even the Stoics did not depend solely
upon the abstract power of reason.” We gotta use vigorous empowering thoughts as well.
Baudouin & Lestchinsky wrote The Inner Discipline
in 1924, combining Couéism and Dubois' rational methods. They devoted a whole chapter to the influence of Stoicism. They recognized that all the classical schools of philosophy were relevant to modern pscyhotherapy, but said the Stoics did the best job, partly because of the emphasis on continual training and discipline. “As such, Baudouin undoubtedly provides the best example to date of an attempt to assimilate Stoic literature within modern “rational” psychotherapy, itself a close precursor of CBT.....I believe Baudouin has surpassed Beck and Ellis in his grasp of Stoicism’s relevance for psychotherapy”. Robertson thinks that Ellis&Beck tipped their hat to the Stoics for getting that thoughts create feelings, but not for the more central Stoic principle (the one that launches the Enchiridion
) that we need to control our minds and let the outer world be.
Baudouin & Lestchinsky: “Thus, for the philosophers of the Stoic school, an understanding of universal determinism, a recognition of the inexorable interlacement of causes and effects, was one of the first premises of wisdom.” [Compare the buddhist teaching that everything is a dependent-arising.] Determinism teaches us that many things are not in our control. It teaches us to be accepting of karma. Albert Einstein said here
that the belief in determinism was to him, "a continual consolation in the face of life’s hardships, my own and others’, and an unfailing well-spring of tolerance."
The class of things outside our control includes the past events of our lives.
Robertson makes the good point that psychoanalysis is a fleeting fad of little influence when compared to the therapeutic school of Socrates.
After Socrates' death, 10 of his disciples founded 10 schools. One of these was the Cynics. Zeno of Citium joined the Cynics. Like the way all Christian sects think they're the ones who really “get” Jesus, all these sects thought they represent Socrates true teachings. Zeno and his mates met in a collonade and the word 'Stoic' comes from the Greek for 'collonade'. These schools were generally sympathetic to each other.
Martial metaphors are used a lot in Stoicism. [Sidenote: the people interested in gamifying mental health should take heart from this.]
Wisdom was understood by the Classical Greeks as peace of mind. Robertson correctly points out that the distinct categories “'spiritual', 'philosophical', and 'therapeutic'” were “alien to ancient philosophy”.
Epictetus wrote: “Death, for instance, is nothing terrible, or else it would have appeared so to Socrates too. But the terror lies in our own judgements about death, that death is terrible” This is the same point of the Buddhists when they say that attributes appear to be in things, but actually are not so (like Tsongkhapa's verse about the rope looking like a snake).
Marcus Aurelius' Meditations
: “This advice from Epicurean writings: to think continually
of one of the men of old who lived a virtuous life”
- Think what they'd do in that situation
- Imagine conversing with them. If you imagine they're there, you won't feel like messing up.
- Best of all is if you can actually sit with the guru
Four categories of techniques:
- Attitudes, maxims to be repeated, memorized, re-read
- “Rhetorical exercises, involving reading of key texts, discussion of applied philosophical themes, and the keeping of a personal notebook or journal in which verbal exercises are performed on a regular basis.”
- “In an exchange with his Stoic students, Epictetus emphasizes that this basic Stoic principle should be writtendown each day, in different forms, memorized, and stubbornlyapplied to every challenging situation” [p118]
- Sri Aurobindo says that jnana-yoga goes
- śravaņa – Hear the divine described so that you come to an intellectual understanding of it
- manana – Consider what you have learned so that you make the idea personal
- nididhyāsana – Concentrate upon it until it reveals itself to you
- “Lifestyle changes, such as the adoption of moderate diet, regulation of sleep, physical exercise, simple clothing, cultivating friendships, etc.”
- “Contemplative techniques involving mental imagery, such as visualization of the earth seen from above, or the mental rehearsal of anticipated events, etc.”
“Essentially, all that remains of the once voluminous Stoic literature are The Letters
of Seneca, The Discourses
and accompanying Handbook
of Epictetus, The Meditations
of Marcus Aurelius, some fragments from other Stoics, and pieces of commentary scattered”
“Epictetus was a crippled slave, owned by the Emperor Nero’s secretary, Epaphroditus”
“[Spinoza] recommended that “precepts”, or “rules of living”, effectively affirmations similar to the Stoic precepts, should be internalized and associated with challenging events.”
Robertson's story is that Stoicism as a practical philosophy flourished in Rome, was suppressed by Christianity, resurged a little in the Renaissance as a philosophy, but only came back as an art of living with CBT etc.
Cicero described philosophy as 'animi medicina
', which could be translated 'psychotherapy'.... “In the Tusculan Disputations, he argues that the philosopher will treat diseases of the mind (animi morbum
) in the way that physicians treat diseases of the body, except that the philosopher will primarily be his own physician in this regard, and take care”. [Interesting that Stoicism was mostly a self-help thing, rather than the one-hour-therapy-session model that now predominates (so therapists can put food on the table?)]
“Epictetus advised his students that philosophy was the study of their own 'art of living', but that the art of living of another person was his own business” [I am not my brother's keeper. CBT teaches the importance of not worrying about controlling other people.]
Seneca – mentorship
Marcus Aurelius – personal meditation
Epictetus – group discussion
A modern professor of philosophy would be unrecognizable to a Stoic as a 'philosopher'.
These are hierarchical doctrines, to be understood, integrated and lived by. A nucleus of consistent, simple, memorable beliefs. [What a cognitive therapist would call an adaptive schema.] “systematic in order that it might provide the mind with a small number of principles, tightly linked together, which provided greater persuasive force and mnemonic effectiveness precisely from such systematisation.” Hierarchical in the sense that there are a few simple ones, and longer lists derived from the short lists.
The exact system of dogmata is lost, but we have fragments.
[It would be interesting to compare these to a list in Tsongkhapa or someone like that. For instance, the 'Golden Mean' is identical with 'majjhimā paṭipadā'.]
“As Hadot observes, the formulation of Stoic principles into short sentences is not arbitrary, it reflects the Graeco–Roman preoccupation with the art of memorization.” Exactly! Get a system of concise, interconnected doctrines, and then put them into the most memorable possible form. Hadot: “We must formulate the rule of life to ourselves in the most striking and concrete way.”
The dogmata were orally transmitted. When philosophy is therapy, it's no good to have a philosophical principle that is not as easy to remember as your name. “Know thyself.” “Nothing in excess.” “To err is human.” Musonius Rufus said that the first prerequisite to Stoic exercise was to always have, ready to go, an arsenal of principles.
The Stoic student would write them down over and over again, and rephrase them in different ways, to work them deep into his mind. Formulate aphorisms. Laertius writes that Socrates “was continually repeating these iambics”, which is interesting because it implies a particular mnemonic aid: meter.
Galen writes that you should practice not just the cognition, but the cognition-behavior chain. So think about long-term benefits when you're about to lift weights. That seems like a good idea.
“Likewise, the use of diagrams and symbols, such as the Pythagorean tetractys, or acronyms and symbolic words and phrases, may also have been used to assist the process of memorization and recall of beneficial ideas”
[Follow this practice to its extreme and you're talking about a Qabalah]
One dogma is The Threefold Rule of Life
from Marcus Aurelius
- Objective judgement, now, at this very moment. [CBT empiricism]
- Unselfish action, now, at this very moment. [Buddhist generosity]
- Willing acceptance –now, at this very moment– of all external events.
Hadot condenses Stoicism into four principles:
- All is one. All is interconnected. [pratītyasamutpāda]. Marcus Aurelius: “The human soul degrades itself above all, when it does its best to become an abscess, a kind of detached growth on the world. To be disgruntled at anything that happens is a kind of secession from Nature, which comprises the nature of all things”. Obviously all this is completely in accord with every mystic school ever.
- The only good is to choose to do the right thing – compared to this external good fortune is ashes.
- “The brotherhood of man. Human beings are valuable in themselves because they are most similar to us, in so far as they possess knowledge and volition; we should therefore think of all men as one.”
- “The here and now. The Stoic’s sphere of control is centered upon the present moment, and hence it is in the here and now that his attention should be grounded.”
Epictetus said that Stoicism was two things:
- Follow fate. “'Our motto, as everyone knows,' said Seneca, 'is to live in conformity with nature'”. Be aware that every action is part of the universal, interconnected dependent-arising. (“never to deliberate on anything as though detached from the whole, but be like our hand or foot, which, if they had reason, and understood the constitution of nature, would never exercise any impulse or desire, except by reference to the whole. [Discourses, 2.10.4])
- Use impressions correctly. I think this means empiricism.
Robertson correctly writes: “'belief in God' is more a question of language or perspective than a metaphysical hypothesis.
“the philosophers appear to have made a practice of seeking virtue in everyone around them”. This is good. Happy people do this. It's better than putting everyone down.
On page 146, Robertson talks about a practice where you extend compassion from your friends to your enemies, very much like in the Vishuddimagga
. Everyone has the potential to be a sage, which is identical to the Buddhist teaching that everyone is a potential Buddha, and you should respect them for that.
An exercise: think of people who've influenced you. Setting aside their flaws, consider the strengths and the lessons you could learn from them. Be explicit about this.
Epictetus said three practical disciplines are –
- Setting up your games so you can't lose. This includes putting them in perspective, remembering universe is big, deterministic and impermanent.
- Controlling your behavior
- Being rational
(There are (confusingly) named Stoic Physics, Stoic Ethics and Stoic Logic.) He says you should do them in this order. Root out egregious cognitions, then start expanding your behavior and developing skills, then work hard on pulling out delusions by the root.
Marcus Aurelius said: “Objective judgement now, at this very moment [Logic]. Unselfish action, at this very moment [Ethics]. Willing acceptance now, at this very moment, of all external events [Physics]. That's all you need.
Cognition does not cause emotion in the manner of a cueball causing another ball to move. They are one process. The only division's linguistic. (When the Dhammapada says all we are is built by thought, emotion is a good example; emotions are built by thought. Not recognizing this, you fall into the powerless belief that emotions are built by circumstances outside your control.)
CBT and Stoicism both recommend killing distorted, excessive emotions, and enjoying healthy, well-adjusted, undistorted, rational emotions.
Stoics talk of ethics meaning sīla
, whatever conduct is conducive to a good life. Wise conduct. [Isn't it weird that English doesn't have a word for this? All our word, 'good behavior', 'ethics', 'morality', 'duty', imply a paternalistic/dictatorial morality. The difference is that you can follow sīla
and still Think For Yourself And Question Authority. Burton was on the same tack when he wrote, “He noblest lives and noblest dies who makes and keeps his self-made laws”. Marcus Aurelius's Meditations
Greece, like India, never distinguished between what was the right thing for a person to do and what was advantageous for him to do.
The Stoics had the same idea as the Tibetans that humans and animals share the lower circuits, but humans have a metaprogramming circuit, so ought to take responsibility for their desires. The more a person takes responsibility for controlling his animal desires, the more noble he becomes.
Overindulgence in greed and ambition will wreck your peace of mind and self-control and thereby lead to suffering.
If we want happiness, and our ignorance often leads us to pursue happiness in the wrong places, it follows that we should become lovers of wisdom: philosophers.
The Stoics keep stressing that the wise man should be concerned with nothing else besides the cultivation of his soul, not wealth or acclaim etc. Compare nekkhamma
Robertson writes on page 84: “Moreover, in the extant Stoic writings, it is generally considered rational to prefer having external “goods”, such as food, wealth, sex, social praise, etc., over pain and poverty, so long as these things do not have an adverse effect upon our mental health and well-being”. This is like what Ellis would call a healthy “non-dogmatic preference”. Buddhists do say that samsaric pleasure is better than no pleasure at all, but that we should pursue the pleasure that comes from within.
Musonius Rufus: “Training which is peculiar to the soul [mental exercise] consists first of all in seeing that the proofs pertaining to apparent goods as not being real goods are always ready to hand, and likewise those pertaining to apparent evils as not being real evils, and in learning to recognise the things which are truly good and in becoming accustomed to distinguish them from what are not truly good.”
[Gautama makes the identical point in the Lokavipatti Sutta: “Gain arises for an uninstructed run-of-the-mill person. He does not reflect, 'Gain has arisen for me. It is inconstant, stressful, & subject to change.' He does not discern it as it actually is......"Now, gain arises for a well-instructed disciple of the noble ones. He reflects, 'Gain has arisen for me. It is inconstant, stressful, & subject to change.' He discerns it as it actually is.”]
If we recognize that what is apparently bad is not really bad (it's just samsaric blah, or just atoms, or just karma or whatever you call it) then we will cease to flee it. An example of this is accustomizing yourself to rejexion / embarrassment – you see it's not so bad, and then you stop worrying about it. Flooding phobias is another example.
“We fear social censure and physical pain, but mindlessly run into the more serious [internal] affliction which results from placing too much value on these things by mistake.... The Stoic should learn that true benefit and harm lie not in his external fortune, but within his own mind”
Stoics would append “God willing”, “if fate allows” or some similar phrase at the end of statements, because, as Seneca put it, “the pain caused by failure must be lighter for one who has not promised success to himself beforehand”
“The sage, thereby, holds two complementary propositions in mind simultaneously, viz.,
1. I will do my very best to succeed...
2. while simultaneously accepting that the ultimate outcome is beyond my direct control.”
In other words, always, always, always just decide what you need to do with your mindbody and do that. Don't worry about anything else. Don't worry about results. Let results take care of themselves. Consider it a win every time you do your best. It follows from this that a Stoic should cultivate what we can call 'toughness', e.g. in the face of humiliation, rejexion, heat, cold, fatigue etc. Ellis would call it 'high frustration tolerance', i.e. Thinking “shit happens” when an obstacle arises rather than “It mustn't be”
Taking this to an extreme, Epictetus advises that we should act as though the circumstances are something we have actually wished for. This is Nietzsche's amor fati.
“avoid attaching emotive language to external things”. Examples would be “that is offensive”, “it's a hard situation”, “I'm having a rough day” etc.
The main character strengths according to the Stoics were –
In Greek philosophy, as in Buddhism, these can all be ultimately considered aspects of wisdom. Marcus Aurelius 8.1 says that nothing is good but what leads to virtue and nothing is bad but what leads away from it.
“The mere appearance is not yet a judgement and not yet an emotion
because a judgement—and, hence, an emotion—is the assent of
reason to the appearance. Ordinary people not trained in Stoicism
may give the assent of reason so automatically that they do not
realise that assent is a separate operation of the mind from receiving
appearances. But Stoicism trains you to stand back from
appearances and interrogate them without automatically giving
them the assent of your reason”
Protopassions, or propatheiai
, the first twinges of emotion, still arise when emotive stimuli apear, but we don't “give the assent of reason” to them (don't validate them with cognitions) but have trained ourselves to question them instead. The first step is to become aware
of the act of giving the assent of reason. (i.e. become aware of the B in Ellis' ABC)
3:24.58-59: “[Be affexionate] As becomes a noble-spirited and happy person. For reason will never tell you to be abject and broken-hearted, or to depend on another, or to reproach either god or man. Be affectionate in such a manner as to observe all this. But if from affection, as you call it,you are to be a slave and a wretch, it is not worth your while to be affectionate”
“The sage loves without demanding that he be loved in return, and without the kind of emotional attachment which presupposes that things are set in stone and cannot change. He, therefore, reminds himself of the transience of all things, including the lives of his loved ones, whom he views, rationally, as mortals, subject to change and death. With this qualification in mind, we can affirm that the sage feels love, and does so as a philosopher should, unconditionally, and toward all mankind. Likewise, in the preface to his Meditations
, Marcus Aurelius reminds himself, “Not to display anger or other emotions. To be free of passion and yet full of love” (Meditations, 1.9).”
“According to Ellis, therefore, the central aim of REBT is that of 'inducing the patient to internalise a rational philosophy of life'”. Similarly, Hadot wrote “Logic [the Stoic training called Logic] was thus the mastery of inner discourse”. Marcus Aurelius: “Nothing is so conducive to spiritual growth as this capacity for logical and accurate analysis of everything that happens to us” (Meditations
, 3.11). Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote: “Common sense in an uncommon degree is what the world calls wisdom”
Bad thoughts are what produce problems. This is comparable to a hypnotic or suggestion-based model (including Couéism), where both problems and therapies are considered to be caused by suggestions (thought-loops). These are first suggested, then autosuggested.
“Ellis concludes that the main underlying issue is that the client should come to perceive their internal dialogue as a form of autosuggestion and to realize that they are continually involved in reindoctrinating themselves into irrational or neurotic belief systems”. This is very much like the Buddhist idea that every thought is creating karma, so whatever you do or think creates a tendency to continue doing that and thinking that.
“However, the Cynics themselves specifically refer to the deliberate practice of “shamelessness” (anaideia
) as a psychotherapeutic exercise. In the case of Diogenes, this was referred to metaphorically as his “defacing the coinage” of social conventions”
Ellis says think these when you're angry at people –
- They messed up coz they're human
- If you're being criticized for a mistake, correct the mistake and move on without a loss of self-esteem. If you did nothing wrong, realize it's their problem for mistakenly criticizing you
- They acted as they did for their own motivations, out of their own psychology. [This is like Stoic contemplation of determinism]
- Never blame yourself for making mistakes or being less than omniscient
Marcus Aurelius says think these when you're angry at people –
- Remember the brotherhood of man
- “Because just as “no-one ever deliberately denies the truth,” according to Socrates, so nobody ever intentionally treats another person badly” [Meditations 11:8. Compare David Burns Feeling Good, where in the chapter on anger he says that people act fairly from their value-system, and we get angry because the selfsame act is unfair by our value-system]
- You make similar mistakes to the people you're mad at
- The situation is uncertain anyway, so remember you may have it all wrong
- “Tell yourself, when you feel upset and fed up, that human life is transient and only lasts a moment; it won't be long before we'll all have been laid to rest.” [Beautiful!]
- Beam back at an angry person with compassion
The Golden Verses of Pythagoras say to be cautious and circumspect at all times.
Mindfulness of the here and now stops worry about things that are not real – fantasies of bad scenarios, memories etc.
Another advantage is that it allows us to snag delusive thoughts: “The sage does not so much as lift a finger without guarding against the tendency to decay in his own judgement, which the Stoics refer to as man’s “ruling faculty”, or the helmsman of the soul.” “Attention (prosoche
) is the fundamental Stoic spiritual attitude. It is a continuous vigilance and presence of mind, self-consciousness which never sleeps, and a constant tension of the spirit. Thanks to this attitude, the philosopher is fully aware of what he does at each instant, and he wills his actions fully. [Hadot, 1995, p. 84]”
The sage wills his actions fully – Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole Of The Law.
“'Attend to your impressions', says Epictetus, 'watch over them without sleeping, for it is no small thing that you are guarding'” (Discourses
, 3.12.15 says to catch every thought and be mindful of it, not to let it slip by.
[Compare this: “ How then is the will to be trained? All these wishes, whims, caprices, inclinations, tendencies, appetites, must be detected, examined, judged by the standard of whether they help or hinder the main purpose, and treated accordingly. Vigilance and courage are obviously required. ”]
page 154: have a sense of wonder at things, as though seeing them for the first time [Alan Watts says something very similar]
“The Chinese Taoist sage, Lao Tzu, said that the wise man was as cautious as someone crossing a winter stream. Epictetus says something virtually identical, when he writes that the sage walks about cautiously, like a man wary of treading on a nail or twisting his ankle on rocky ground (Enchiridion
“Attention, self-awareness, can be developed in any activity, hence Epictetus asks the rhetorical question whether there is anything in life which is not better performed by attentive individuals, and whether any task is improved by a lack of awareness (Discourses
, 4.12.4–5).” [Shinzen Young makes this point on tape one of The Science of Meditation
Epictetus said that we should watch our minds, and discard those thoughts concerned with things outside our control (i.e. worldly things) and keep those that concern things within our control (i.e. our own actions of body and mind). This is in a way better – less dreary – than the Indian idea that we watch our minds and discard everything that is related to worldly happiness in any way.
When mindless, the map seems like the territory. Thoughts seem to be real, not to be mere thoughts.
The Stoics talk about katharsis
to mean cleanly separating the real world from our cognitive layers that we impose on it. This is a bit like 'distancing' in cognitive therapy.
Seeing as Stoicism is about focusing on what we can control, it stands to reason that one should be attentive to the present moment, as that is what we can control, not the past or future
Every time we restrain our impulses, we build the muscles to have self-control in the future; every time we fail to do so we weaken it. Epictetus appreciated this karmic/self-perpetuating effect of choices very well. “If then, you do not wish to be ill-tempered, do not feed the habit. Give it nothing to promote its growth” [Discourses
Enjoy the moment and don't put it off because life is short. Don't get so swept up in hoping for better conditions in the future that you fail to do this. Same theme in Luke 9:62, Matthew 6:28-34.
Epicurus said “rehearse death” and Seneca quoted him. Seneca says to both enjoy life and be unafraid of death. [Compare the Hagakure
and the Maranassati Sutta
.] Some Pythagorian source: “Then make the habit, never inconsiderately to act; Neither forget that death is appointed to all; That possessions here gladly gathered, here must be left”. Marcus Aurelius's Meditations
2:11 makes the same point as the Buddha that the time of death is uncertain and that should determine our actions.
Epictetus: ““Let death and exile, and all other things which appear dreadful be set before your eyes each day, but mainly death, and you will never experience any base thought, nor too readily crave anything” (Enchiridion,21).” [Compare Yamamoto Tsunetomo: “Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one's body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one's master. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead.”]
Mindfulness of death [of gross impermanence] makes us unattached to worldly conditions.
was the word for what we'd now call a 'mental representation'
“Thus the task of the Stoic analysis of impressions and judgementsis to examine impressions and to reject any value judgements theymight contain. Its aim is to develop an experience of the world asit is in itself, that is, an experience that presents things as neithergod nor bad in themselves.” [Sellars, 2003, p. 158].
Get away from the level of concepts and back to the level of the senses. Gotta go out of your mind if you want to come to your senses. “When you become too remote from what you can perceive with your five senses, it’s easy to enter in to the world of fantasy and nonreality. When you stick with what you can perceive, you’re usually on much safer ground. [Beck, Emery, & Greenberg, 2005,p. 197]” Marcus Aurelius: “Always to define whatever it is we perceive—to trace its outline— so we can see what it really is. Stripped bare. As a whole. Unmodified.” “Stick with first impressions. Don't extrapolate. And nothing can happen to you. [Meditations, 8.49]” “This method is similar to the technique known in Korzybski's system of general semantics as 'extensional' thinking, or 'orientation by facts' rather than mere words” The Stoics called this rational, empirical attitude towards our own thoughts phantasia kataleptike
. Lucretius may have said it most clearly of all: “Most of this illusion is due to the mental assumptions which we ourselves superimpose, so that things not perceived by the senses pass for perceptions.” Book IV
says: “Let then the Student practise observation of those things which normally would cause him emotion; and let him, having written a careful description of what he sees, check it by the aid of some person familiar with such sights. Surgical operations and dancing girls are fruitful fields for the beginner.” In General Semantics, this would be called learning to separate insension fron extension; Korzybski defined unsanity as “total domination by verbal definition” and this has been confirmed by cognitive psychotherapy.
By treating things with the phantasia kataleptike
, we get closer to an objective, impersonal, or even cosmic perspective.
is the state of confusion when your ideas dissolve under hard philosophical questioning
2.26:1-3 say that therapy is about bringing a hidden contradixion into consciousness.
In cognitive therapy, people are often asked to consider what they'd say to someone who had their problem; by thinking about it as a third person, the necessary distance is created. “The same strategy is found, very clearly described, in Epictetus’s Stoic therapy. In the Handbook
, he says that we can learn how to adapt to nature by considering how our judgements apply to other people’s misfortunes”
, 1.27.3–4 is about disputation.
“The Stoics frequently borrowed this fundamental Epicurean maxim, that pain is usually either chronic and mild or acute and severe. Seldom is it both genuinely intense and long-lasting, if only because we would probably die before long. Beck and his colleagues allude to a similar Epicurean maxim, that “Pain is never unbearable or unending, so long as you remember its limitations and do not indulge in fanciful exaggeration” ”
insists that one should never claim to be a philosopher or talk about philosophical principles before laymen, but, rather, exhibit one’s philosophy through one’s actions.” A bit like magickal silence.
, 46: “For sheep do not bring their fodder to the shepherds to show how much they have eaten, but digest their food internally, and produce wool and milk externally. And so you likewise should not display your principles to laymen, but rather show them the actions that result from these principles once they have been digested.” Compare the Book of The Law
about how you shouldn't argue because success is your proof.
The morning sets you up for the rest of the day. Prep for the day. Be ready for adversity. “Decide on the principles that will guide and inspire our actions” as Hadot puts it.
Then at the end of the day, review the good and bad things in your conduct.
[I heard the Dalai Lama quoted as saying that every night you should identify three good things you did to do again, and three bad things to avoid doing again – but I don't have the reference.]
So you do cognitive-behavioural rehearsals before and after.
Interestingly, reviewing the day was also considered a way of keeping the memory strong.
Think about the absolute worst thing that might happen and imagine dealing with that Stoically.
The Stoics did mental rehearsal (meditatio
) and also roleplay rehearsal (gymnasio
). This could be roleplaying with a friend (or therapist), or doing something like shamelessness exercises.
Robertson quotes the Dalai Lama: “The first premise [of Buddhist therapeutics] is that all “deluded”states of mind, all afflictive emotions and thoughts, are essentially distorted, in that they are rooted in misperceiving the actual reality of the situation. ”
Bertrand Russell wrote a self-help book called The Conquest of Happiness
Dubois and others especially stressed a dogma of determinism. Karma.
Once you accept determinism, there is no longer any room to 'blame' people. That's amazing.
Part of the determining-determined causal web is our own volitions and mental factors, so determinism does not imply that the mind is powerless.
Dubois: “I know of no idea more fertile in happy suggestion than that which consists in taking people as they are, and admitting at the time when one observes them that they are never otherwise than what they can be.”
Epictetus says to remind ourselves that this misfortune affects my finances/body/whatever, but not my choice. Though it seems we must necessarily be upset by things, that's wrong; we are free from emotional necessities.
Epictetus, Dubois, Wolpe and Lazarus all said that by understanding people as determined, we can stop judging/labelling them.
Epictetus says to superficially sympathize with other people's neurotic upset, neurotic ambition etc. just to be an empathetic person. Empathize with their suffering, but don't buy into it as legitimate, but yet don't ridicule them for being so deluded.
Socrates, just like David Burns, says that an insult is either [A] valid, in which case you can learn from it and correct your actions or [B] not valid, in which case ignore it. “Epictetus similarly joked that when criticized by another, he can always complain that they obviously do not know what they are talking about or they would have mentioned all of his other vices as well.” heheh
Stockdale empathized with his torturers. There are similar stories of Tibetan monks being tortured by communists.
“Further still, attempting to understand and empathize with one’s opponents provides a much-needed check against vanity and may help us to identify and face up to our shortcomings. Reputedly, one of Antisthenes’ maxims was, “One should pay attention to one’s enemies, for they are the first to detect one’s errors””
Anger is taking it too seriously when others judge us badly; vanity when they judge us well. The solution is to realize the psychological determinism of people.
“It is the action of a [philosophically] uneducated person to lay the blame for his own bad condition upon others; of one who has made a start on his education to lay the blame on himself; and of one who is fully educated, to blame neither others or himself. [Enchiridion
A major Stoic exercise was visualizing the earth from a great distance. The English phrase “putting things in perspective” is incredibly apt. Watch the movie Powers of Ten on Youtube
. Robertson says that this is one Stoic technique that CBT missed out on, but which he finds very useful with his patients. This exercise is related to advaita, or nonseperateness of self-and-world. Japanese saying: "body and earth are not two". Like Indra's net, we can see everything in ourselves and ourselves in everything, so that anger dissolves and love appears in its place. Cosmology as meditation, not as theory. “This practice seems naturally to evoke feelings of the transience and triviality of things which might otherwise have caused undue concern.”
You can apply perspective-shifting to time (small timescales for subtle impermanence and long timescales for gross impermanence), to space (very big and very small), to simple versus complex causality, to – what else? – maybe the electromagnetic spectrum.
“Stoic ethics is indeed based upon self-interest. However, any change in our view of the self means a change in our view of what self-interest actually means” - that is a brilliant way of putting the point that selfish people who are into self-development or magick fail to get.